Results tagged ‘ Luke Scott ’

Tampa Bay Rays Offseason Outlook

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As the Fall Classic concludes and the 2012 baseball season comes to an end, it’s time to look forward into what the winter has in store for the Rays. Like last offseason, Andrew Friedman and the Rays will have some tough choices to make before players report to spring training.

First in line in Tampa’s offseason priorities is their club options, which must all be dealt with this week. Out of the four on the list, the only sure ‘yes’ is Fernando Rodney ($2.5 million). Next is Luke Scott, who hit just .229/.285/.439 with 14 homers and 55 RBI in 344 plate appearances this season. With that kind of production at DH and his lack of ability to stay healthy, the chances of the Rays bringing him back in 2013 for $6 million are very slim.

The Rays hold a $10.25 million on veteran James Shields, who will be one of the main storylines throughout the winter. If they decide not to pick up the option—which is very likely—than they’ll immediately look for suitable deals for a blockbuster trade. As much as the organization prides themselves on excellent starting pitching, they really could use some young offensive talent as well.

The toughest club option decision for the Rays will be Jose Molina. The 37-year-old catcher did a nice job with the pitching staff but didn’t produce well offensively (.284 wOBA through 274 PA’s). At $1.5 million, don’t be surprised to see the Rays exercise his option in order to bring his veteran presence back to the roster.

As for Tampa’s free agents this offseason, the list includes B.J. Upton, Carlos Pena, Kyle Farnsworth, Joel Peralta, Ryan Roberts, Jeff Keppinger and J.P. Howell. It looks like the Rays will part ways with Upton after his many years of service, which means they’ll have one less outfielder in 2013. There is a question to as if the Rays will give Upton a qualifying offer (one year for $13.3 million), however, which would land them a compensatory draft pick if he declines. If the Rays do go ahead and extend a qualifying offer, chances are he’ll turn it down and hit the market in pursuit of a huge long-term team.

Carlos Pena—who hit an MLB-worst .197 with just 19 homers and 61 RBI—is another big name who will likely be missing from the lineup in 2013, meaning the Rays will likely shop the market again this winter for first basemen.

As for the rest of the FA’s, all have a pretty decent chance of returning next season. The Rays would love to bring back Jeff Keppinger after his suprisingly good 2012 season. Keppinger can play three different positions in the infield while serving as an excellent contact hitter who can get the job done at the plate. After hitting .325 last season in his 418 plate appearances, he should be able to earn more than the $1.5 million he made last year.

Ryan Roberts is another player that can provide some infield versatility as well as some power in his bat, and the Rays will probably work on re-signing him as well.

As for the bullpen, it will be interesting to see how they handle free agents Peralta, Farnsworth and Howell. I think it’s safe to say Howell will be back in the ‘pen next season after the fine comeback year he had, posting an ERA a tad over 3 in over 50 innings of work. As for Farnsworth and Peralta though, both are much more of a question mark at the age of 36.

The next offseason topic to talk about is how the Rays will adress their areas of need. The three main holes on the roster are at first base, catcher and DH. They’ll probably seek some help in the outfield, shortstop and in the bullpen as well.

Ben Zobrist made a smooth transition to shortstop towards the end of the year, so it’ll be interesting to see if the Rays decide to make him their starting shortstop next season or continue to search outside the organization. Either way, we can expect to see the Rays sign another middle infielder, such as a Jeff Keppinger or Ryan Roberts type player.

With James Shields and numerous talented pitching prospects, the Rays have the necessary pieces to make a trade that could fill up some of the gaps on the roster. 1B Ike Davis, SS Elvis Andrus, SS Yunel Escobar, C J.P. Arencibia, 1B Eric Hosmer and INF Jed Lowrie are all players who will probably be up for trade this winter.

There are a handful of FA options as well. James Loney seems to be a very realistic possibility at the moment. If the Red Sox decide not resign him—which is about a 50/50 chance—then he would definitely become an affordable option for the Rays at first base. 2B Skip Schumaker, INF Stephen Drew, 1B/DH Lance Berkman, OF Coco Crisp, RP Matt Capps, RP Ryan Madson and INF Maicer Izturis are other names to keep an eye on as well.

Tampa Bay Rays Season in Review

The 2012 season may not be one to remember for Tampa Bay Rays fans. Despite winning 90 games in baseball’s toughest division, they missed the playoffs for the first time since 2009. Considering the high expectations put upon the Rays coming into spring training, many look back at the season as a disappointment.

One word that could used to describe the Rays in 2012 is ‘unlucky’. Not only did they have to play through injury after injury throughout the entire season, but they also saw the Baltimore Orioles and the Oakland A’s both have shockingly great seasons in the same year`, ultimately costing them a spot in the postseason.

Even with all these obstacles, Tampa Bay still could have very possibly made the playoffs. They lost a handful of games that could have been one and had their fair share of awful offensive performances as well.

Let’s take a look back at the Rays’ season as a whole; evaluating what went wrong, what went right, and which players are worthy of team awards.

 

The Offense:

Just like it has been in the previous years, offense once again was the team’s biggest weakness in 2012. The numerous injuries were obviously a huge reason for the Rays’ lack of production, but even some names in the lineups—such as Carlos Pena, Luke Scott and Desmond Jennings—underproduced causing the Rays major problems scoring runs throughout the season.

Relative to expectations and projections for Tampa coming into the season, the Rays actually only slightly underproduced offensively. A thorough article done by Jason Hanselman at the TheRaysWay.com evaluates how well the Rays hit compared to preseason projections by looking at every players wOBA and wRAA. Below is a table: 

What the Rays saw this year is just how shallow their offensive depth is in their organization. Unlike in previous years, they dealt with a large amount of injuries in their lineup and constantly had to call up replacements. As you can see from the numbers, those replacements couldn’t give the Rays any kind of boost that was needed and the injuries would prove to sting as badly as feared.

Team Stats:

Runs: 18th (697) in MLB

Batting average: T-27th (.240)

wOBA: T-16th (.311)

RBI: 17th (665)

Walks: 1st (571)

Stolen Bases: T-5th (134), T-2nd in AL

Team Leaders (500+ PA’s):

BA: Ben Zobrist (.270)

wOBA: Ben Zobrist (.365)

RBI: B.J. Upton (78)

HR: B.J. Upton (28)

wRC+: Ben Zobrist (137)

SB: Desmond Jennings/B.J. Upton (31)

* Evan Longoria and Jeff Keppinger both had under 500 PA’s this season

 

The Pitching

The Rays pitching once again was every bit as good as advertised, and more in 2012. The staff’s ridiculously good season was one of the best in modern baseball history and the best in the majors this year. Tampa’s pitching (including bullpen) led all of baseball in ERA (3.19), FIP (3.51), opponents batting average (.228) and strikeouts (set the AL record team record with 1,383).

The Starters:

David Price – The Cy Young hopeful enjoyed his best season yet thus far in his impressive young career, winning 20 games while posting a 2.56 ERA through 211 innings at the top of the Rays’ rotation. Justin Verlander, who also had an outstanding year, is the only pitcher that stands in the way of some hardware for Price this November. Both make great cases for the award and it should be fun to watch who prevails in the voting. The Rays saw the flame-throwing southpaw continue to develop as an ace in 2012, maturing with his pitch selection as well as with his command. The future looks extremely bright for him.

James Shields – In what could be his last year with the Rays, Shields had himself another successful season with Tampa Bay. He again proved to be one of the most efficient and consistent starters in the league, posting a 15-10 record with a 3.52 ERA through 227.2 innings pitched. He also recorded the most strikeouts of anybody in the rotation (223) while walking the least batters out of the four starters with 150+ IP. Even with all the great pitching talent in the organization, the Rays will no doubt miss Shields next year if he doesn’t return.

Jeremy Hellickson – After taking home the AL Rookie of the Year award last year, Hellickson did a nice job avoiding a sophomore slump in 2012. He hit some rough patches during the season but overall had himself a fine year, posting a 3.10 ERA through 177 innings pitched.

Matt Moore – After a sensational first impression in the big leagues last year as a mid-season call-up at the young age of 22, the top prospect phenom experienced a bumpy roller coaster ride in 2012. As Moore has done in his past years in the minors, he struggled early in the season, posting an ERA in the high 4′s for the first two months and then struggling again late in the season posting an ERA north of 5 in the last month. As expected, fastball command was his biggest issue throughout the year. Overall it wasn’t a bad season at all though, and he’ll likely become a ace-type pitcher very soon with some minor adjustments.

Jeff Niemann – Unfortunately injuries absolutely ruined Niemann’s 2012 season, and it wasn’t the first time in his career either. As he started to heat up in the month of May, he was hit hard by Tampa’s injury plague, taking a hard liner to the leg sidelining the big right-hander for months. He wouldn’t even pitch as much as four innings after that, as a shoulder injury in his first start back in September ended his season for good. Niemann would end the year with a 3.08 ERA through eight starts (38 innings pitched).

Alex Cobb – Just as he did in 2011, Cobb was called up to replace the injured Niemann and did a fine job doing so. He would pitch as much as 136.1 innings by the end of year, posting an 11-9 record with a solid 4.03 ERA. We’ll likely see Cobb continue to contribute to the back end of the Rays’ rotation in the years to come.

Chris Archer – Another top prospect arm, Archer experiences his first taste in the big leagues in 2012. He made four starts for the Rays and posted a 3.80 ERA, showing off his high potential with some impressive major league caliber stuff.

Bullpen:

The Rays’ top-notch rotation was followed up by a bullpen that was one of baseball’s best as well. The ‘pen posted an AL-best ERA of 2.88, a MLB-best FIP of 3.19, AL-best K/9 of 9.33 and an MLB-best opponent’s average of .205. Featured in Tampa’s bullpen was baseball’s best reliever: Fernando Rodney. The flamethrowing closer set the all-time MLB record among relief pitchers for ERA  with a 0.60 mark while recording 48 saves out of 50 opportunities (although only one BS was his fault). The ‘pen was also strengthened by Wade Davis, who did a nice job in his transition from starter to long-reliever. Jake McGee is another name worth mentioning. The young fireballer displayed his sky-high potential by posting a 1.95 ERA with an 11.87 K/9 as a middle reliever.

 

Pleasant Surprises:

  • Jeff Keppinger – When signed by the Rays as somewhat of an extra infielder, nobody thought Keppinger would put the impressive offensive numbers that he did. The 32-year-old veteran hit .325 with a .352 wOBA and 128 wRC+ in 418 plate appearances.
  • Fernando Rodney – Not only was Rodney the most pleasant surprise with the Rays this year, but he was also the most pleasant surprise in all of baseball. After struggling in the past couple of seasons with the Angels, Rodney revived himself in Tampa Bay in 2012, earning him the AL Comeback Player of the Year Award. His historical season also earned him a much-deserved Deliverman Award (acknowledging the league’s best reliever).

     

Disappointments:

  • Carlos Pena – Pena was brought back to Tampa Bay in order to give the Rays consistent run production in the middle of the lineup, but miserably failed to do so this season. The veteran first baseman hit .197 (an MLB low) while knocking in a career-low (for full seasons) RBI total 62 and a career-low home run total of 19.
  • Luke Scott – Like Pena, Scott was acquired in the offseason for the same reasons except for DH duties. He too failed to put up the offensive numbers expected from him, posting a .229/.285/.439 line with just 55 RBI. Injuries were issue as well, and caused him to play just 96 games all season.
  • Sean Rodriguez – Sadly, Rodriguez was the Rays’ best choice for the starting shortstop role at the beginning of the season, and he proved to be probably the worst overall in the league. Offensively he struggled mightily, ending the year with a wOBA of .269 and a wRC+ of 71. Defensively he wasn’t much better either, as he committed a team-high 11 errors.

     

Team Awards:

Team MVP: Ben Zobrist

Best Pitcher: David Price

Best Offensive Player: Ben Zobrist

Biggest Surprises of the Rays’ Season So Far

Here we are in late September, with six games left to go in the regular season. The Rays stand two games out of a playoff spot with a 86-70 record. Rays fans have seen their share of surprises (pleasant and disappointing) throughout the year, and will probably see more as the 2012 season winds down to another exciting finish. Let’s take a look at four biggest surprises season.

The Amount of Injuries

Every team deals with injuries, but not many have been hit by as many injuries as the Rays have this year. In recent years, the Rays are usually one of the less injury-plagued teams in the league, but that has not been the case at all in 2012. Everybody in the starting lineup besides Carlos Pena, Ben Zobrist and Jose Molina has spent time on the DL this season, and 15 players from the 40-man roster have been placed on the DL at some point this season.

Jeff Keppinger

When the Rays signed Jeff Keppinger, they knew he was a good contact hitter, but they had no clue he was going put up a line as impressive as .332/.372/.443. He doesn’t have enough plate appearances to qualify for a batting title, but he does own the highest batting average in the American League. Among Rays players, Keppinger is first in average, third in wOBA, third in wRC+ and fourth in WAR (among position players).

Carlos Pena and Luke Scott

The Rays acquired both Carlos Pena and Luke Scott in the offseason to give their lineup a much-needed boost. They weren’t expected to be one of the better slugging combos in baseball, but they were expected to produce better than they have this season. Neither Pena or Scott have hit for a wOBA of .315+, a wRC+ of over 100, 20 home runs or an average of over .230. The two have combined for just 115 RBI and a WAR of just 1.3.

Passiveness at Trade Deadline

The Rays are usually one of the more quiet teams during the trade deadline frenzy, but Andrew Friedman & Co. were extra passive this past July. Some big names—such as B.J. Upton and James Shields—were rumored to be on the market for the Rays. The Rays also turned many heads when they said they’d be open to trading any of their starters except Matt Moore. In the end they decided not to trade anyone [on the 40-man roster], and ended up making only one move: acquiring Ryan Roberts.

Rays’ 5 Biggest Disappointments Down the Stretch

It’s been an extremely disappointing week for the Tampa Bay Rays. After losing seven of their last eight in the midst of the AL playoff race, they now find themselves with their backs firmly against the wall and at the verge of elimination.

So, as the 2012 season continues to near a upsetting end, who’s to blame for this late season collapse?

The Rays’ September failures have been a team effort, but their are five players who have just been flat-out awful this month.

Matt Moore

Matt Moore appeared to have hit his stride this season after struggling during the early part of the year, but unfortunately those struggles have comeback to haunt him here in September when the Rays least need it.

Moore has has made three starts this month and none of them have been good ones. He suffered the loss in all three, and compiled a 7.43 ERA.

His fastball velocity has been down lately, which is likely a big reason for the poor outings.

Jeff Keppinger

Jeff Keppinger has probably been the Rays’ most consistent hitter all season long. The .317/.361/.419 hitter has hit just .246 with a .220 wOBA and 0 extra-base hits in September.

He’s also seen his strikeout percentage rise to 8.5%.

Matt Joyce

The Rays depend on Matt Joyce to be one of the top bats in the middle of their lineup, and he has not lived up to that expectation recently.

In the last 30 days, Joyce has hit just .182/.289/.288 with just a single home run and eight RBI while posting a low wRC+ of 60. In those 76 plate appearances he’s hit just five extra-base hits—a huge reason why the Rays’ offense has been anemic as it is lately.

Luke Scott

It’s been a disappointing season the whole way through for DH Luke Scott. Lately he’s been especially bad though, having his worst month since his franchise record 0-41 skid back in July.

Scott has hit .182/.200/.341 with just one HR and four RBI in his last 45 PA. Any team with a DH who’s putting up those kind of numbers probably isn’t going to have such a great offense, and that’s been the case for the Rays this year.

Joel Peralta

The wheels have seemingly fell off Joel Peralta here late in the the season. The Rays’ set-up man is 0-2 in with a 5.79 ERA in the last 30 days, putting a big dent in a Tampa Bay bullpen that has been strong all year long.

How Luke Scott’s Return Could Affect the Rays’ Roster Situation

Luke Scott, who has been sidelined with an oblique strain since July, is expected to be activated from the disabled list and rejoin the Rays this week. Scott, a designated hitter, probably wouldn’t be an everyday starter when he initially returns to roster as Evan Longoria is currently in the DH role.

Until the Rays decide Longoria’s hamstring is healthy enough to play third base again, Scott will likely platoon with Longo and serve as a pinch hitter.

The main question to be asked here is who will the Rays option down to make room for Scott on the 25-man roster. Sean Rodriguez—currently batting just .209/.275/.325— definitely seems like the most likely answer at the moment. The only other option really is Ryan Roberts, but the Rays are probably going to hang on to him because he provides more offensive production that Rodriguez. With the rosters expanding to 40 men on September 1, however, this minor league trip should only be a temporary one for Rodriguez.

Another thing to keep an eye on is how the Rays’ infield situation will work out once the roster move is made. Joe Maddon experimentally started Ben Zobrist at shortstop (first time since 2009) for four of the last five games, which strengthened the Rays’ offense by keeping the weaker bats of Rodriguez and Elliot Johnson—the Rays’ only other options at short—out of the lineup.

Hopefully there is more to this ‘experiment’, and Zobrist could see a lot more playing time at shortstop throughout the rest of the season. If he can hold up defensively at short—which he has done so far—the Rays can finally be able to put out the best possible lineup game after game. Monday night was a big step forward for Zobrist to become the Rays’ permanent shortstop for the rest of the year. He got the start with Alex Cobb—the most groundball-heavy starter in the rotation—pitching and performed well again.

So if Zorilla does end up making the transition back to short, his original position, how would the infield shape up once Scott returns? Jeff Keppinger could man third base while Ryan Roberts takes over second, or vice versa, and Elliot Johnson would be on the bench like he has been lately.

Against left-handed starters, however, the field could have a bit of a different look. Keppinger could possibly play first instead of Pena, who Maddon is apparently planning to start less against lefties. Elliot Johnson could get the start at short if Joe decides not to start Joyce, because  Zobrist would have to play right field.

We could see all these possibilities happen in the next couple of weeks, but things will be different when Longoria eventually returns to the hot corner. Against right-handers the infield would be the same except either Roberts or Keppinger would play second with Longoria at third. Against lefties Keppinger would probably start at DH instead of Scott, and Roberts would get the start at second. And once the rosters expand in September, Pena (and possibly Joyce) could be relieved of their duties at their respective positions against left-handers.

We know how Joe Maddon and the Rays love their matchups, so don’t be surprised to see any of these possibilities.

In conclusion, Zobrist becoming the Rays’ main shortstop is the key for them fitting as many key bats into the lineup as possible per game. Defense is obviously crucial as the shortstop position, but with Johnson owning a .970 fielding percentage and Rodriguez having a .959 percentage (both below the league average) at short, the move couldn’t be much of a downgrade.

It’s going to be really nice to see the Rays go from having maybe the worst shortstop combo in baseball to having a middle-of-the-order switch hitter as their shortstop.

4 Reasons Not to Give Up on the Rays

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Here we are in mid-August, less than two months to go in the regular season, and a handful of people have already wrote off the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays stand just a half-game out of a playoff spot, but that hasn’t stopped people from overlooking them, even after their incredible comeback last season.

Although there are some fair reasons to look upon the Rays doubtfully, here are four legitimate reason why nobody should count out the Rays just yet.

Fantastic Pitching

The Rays’ pitching—starting and bullpen—has been absolutely outstanding this season since the All-Star break, and is as hot as ever at the moment. In the last 30 days (post All-Star break excluding a few games), the Rays have posted a (by far) MLB-best ERA of 2.27, the most strikeouts in the league (243) and the best opponents average (.195).

The bullpen has probably been the most spectacular part of Tampa Bay’s dominant pitching staff. The ‘pen has been pretty much untouchable as of late, and like the Rays’s starting rotation, has probably been the best in baseball recently. Closer Fernando Rodney—who has been the league’s best relief pitcher this year—has been perfect in save opportunities since the All-Star break and set the franchise record for most consecutive scoreless innings (22) earlier this week.

As bad as the Rays’ offense has been, I believe that they can clinch a playoff spot if their pitching continues to be this great down the stretch. The good sign is that it doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon, and it could even improve with the return of Jeff Niemann.

The Return of Evan Longoria and Luke Scott

Another positive sign for the Rays is that it appears as if their offense can only get better from here. The much-missed Evan Longoria finally rejoined the Rays after being on the DL for over two months, which of course means the Rays’ struggling lineup will get a big boost.

But Longoria isn’t the only key bat the Rays have missed, as Luke Scott has been on the DL with an oblique strain. Scott, the DH who could likely platoon with Longoria (due to his lack of ability to play third base at the moment), is expected to return next week. His return would be another huge boost for the Rays, and would mean they would have a 100% healthy lineup for the first time this entire season.

A healthy Rays offense is definitely better than the horrible one we’ve witnessed for the past couple of months, which is why—when combined with great pitching—the Rays should have themselves a dangerous team down the stretch.

September Call-Ups

Tampa’s offense could use any help it can get, and some answers could be found down in the farm. Any potential call-ups to boost the offense would probably be in September.

One legitimate option is Henry Wrigley. The slugging first baseman has hit .319/.355/.523 with 11 homers and 47 RBI ever since being promoted to Triple-A Durham 74 games ago. With the Rays now planning to play Carlos Pena less against left-handed pitching, Wrigley could possibly platoon with him at first, or he could perhaps just serve as an extra right-handed bat off the bench with the rosters expanding to 40 men.

Tim Beckham could finally break into the big leagues this September after five disappointing years in the minors. I’m not sure how much Beckham—who’s currently hitting .262/.342/.342 with Durham—would boost the Rays’ offense. His best-case scenario in 2012 is taking over Will Rhymes’ role, and he could contribute if he gets hot down the stretch.

One last Triple-A bat worthy of mentioning is that of C/OF Stephen Vogt. Vogt failed to record a hit in 17 at-bats with the Rays earlier this season when he was called up, but he’ll likely get a second chance in September. He has hit .290/.359/.456 with nine homers and 40 RBI this season in Durham.

They’re Only a Half-Game Back!

If anybody can comeback from a Wild Card deficit to clinch the playoffs it’s the Tampa Bay Rays. The “comeback kids” were trailing the Red Sox for their only chance at a playoff spot by nine games as late as September 1 last season, and we all know how that story ended.

Now trailing by only a half-game with plenty of time left, the Rays have a much easier challenge in 2012. The teams ahead of them—such as Baltimore, Oakland and Chicago (assuming Detroit outplays them down the stretch)—are probably weaker teams than the 2011 Red Sox.

Another reason to like the Rays’ chances of making the playoffs is the new postseason format; there’s now an extra Wild Card spot. This heavily increases their playoff odds, and makes them a Wild Card favorite in my eyes.

Rays First Half Review

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The first half of the Rays’ 2012 season was a tale of injuries. The Rays were simply a team that could not catch a break in the first half, battling through injury after injury to keep themselves afloat in the tough AL East division.

‘Disappointment’ could be a word used to describe the first half of the year, but considering all the adversity and misfortune surrounding them, the Rays’ could have been in a much worse position then they are now at the All-Star break. Fourteen players have spent time on the disabled list this season, including seven out of the nine hitters in the starting lineup [and Jeff Keppinger], two starting pitchers and 2011′s closer (Kyle Farnsworth).

The Rays got off to a hot start in the first quarter of the season, but then quickly faded in the second quarter as their numerous injuries started to catch up with them. The were hit with a huge blow when team leader Evan Longoria went down with a hamstring injury, and have obviously not been the same team offensively or defensively ever since. Then Matt Joyce—the team’s second-biggest run producer—hit the DL nearly three weeks before the All-Star break, weakening the offense to an even worse situation.

At the end of the day, the Rays aren’t exactly too thrilled with where they’re at in the standings at the midseason point, but they have to be pretty satisfied with their position considering the fact that they currently stand only a half-game out of a playoff spot. There’s still plenty of regular season ahead of us, and if anybody can make a second-half turnaround, it’s the Rays.

Let’s take a look at some surprises, disappointments, numbers and team awards from the first half.

Notable Stats

Team average: .232 (28th in MLB)

Team on-base percentage: .314 (22nd in MLB)

Team wOBA: .305 (22nd in MLB)

Team runs per game: 4.22 (16th in MLB)

Team errors total: 71 (2nd highest in MLB)

Team ERA: 3.73 (10th in MLB)

Number of players that have landed on the DL: 14

Pleasant Surprises

Fernando Rodney

Fernando Rodney has not only been the Rays’ most pleasant surprise of the 2012 season, but he has probably been the most pleasant surprise in all of baseball. Rodney has arguably been MLB’s best closer and reliever after the first half of the season. He’s 25 out of 26 in save opportunities and has posted a sparkling 0.93 ERA, earning him his first ever All-Star selection.

Absolutely nobody would have guessed the 35-year-old reliever—who was way past him prime entering the season—would have such an incredible year and become one of the team’s most valuable player, let alone the closer. Coming into spring training Rodney made it clear that he would fight for the closer role, and many simply laughed at his optimism. I think it’s well-known now that Fernando has gotten the last laugh.

Elliot Johnson

Elliot Johnson has quietly been a somewhat productive hitter for the Rays this year. Johnson had very low expectations coming into the season, which he has definitely exceeded thus far.

He has posted a line of .275/.339/.386 with 22 RBI, a .328 wOBA and a 1.1 WAR. The stats don’t seems so great at first glance, but all four of the numbers listed are actually above the league average at the shortstop position. He has the third highest batting average on the team, and his fourth in wOBA and wRC+. As sad or funny as it is (depending on how you look at it), Johnson has been one of the Rays’ most consistent offensive players night after night.

Defensively, however, Johnson has struggled mightily. He owns a .960 fielding percentage at short with a -4.5 UZR and a -1 DRS.

Jeff Keppinger

Jeff Keppinger has been an excellent contact hitter for the Rays this season, and is the only Ray to hit over .300 so far (excluding Evan Longoria). His impressive .310/.362/.411 line and .339 wOBA is a surprise to most.

Keppinger hasn’t been exactly the team’s most productive player, but he is probably the most consistent base-hitter on the team.

Biggest Disappointments

Jose Molina

Jose Molina stats pretty much tell the whole story for his disappointing 2012 season: A .190/.255/.321 line with four home runs and just 13 RBI. The Rays obviously signed him for his defense, but they never would have thought that he would create such a huge whole in the lineup like he has.

Defensively, Molina has done a pretty good job doing what he does best, throwing out baserunners. However, he hasn’t done well blocking balls, as he’s allowed three passed balls while rookie Jose Lobaton hasn’t committed a single one.

Luke Scott

Luke Scott has not gave the Rays the production they expected when they signed him to a two-year deal worth $11 million last winter. He’s posted a very weak .205/.260/.409 line with 11 HR and somehow 42 RBI so far as the Rays’ DH this season.

His .205 ISO and RBI total of 42 suggest that he’s still hitting for power, but the 34-year-old slugger simply is not getting on base or hitting the ball enough. Scott’s 0-41 stretch that he had early this month pretty much sums up his first-half frustration.

Desmond Jennings

Desmond Jennings has a pretty heavy burden being the Rays’ leadoff hitter ever since Opening Day, and has not exactly put up the adequate offensive numbers to be affective in that No. 1 spot in the lineup.

He’s posted a low .298 OBP with a poor .231 batting average. He’s also walked only 8.0% while putting up a high strikeout percentage of 21.3. Being the team’s biggest baserunning threat, getting Jennings on base is crucial for the Rays’ overall offensive success.

As long as Jennings continues to put up on-base percentages at .300 or under, the Rays are probably not going to be scoring too many runs.

Team MVP

1) Ben Zobrist

Ben Zobrist has not been the Rays’ best player by any means, but he has been the most valuable. He hit just .249 with 11 homers and 37 RBI, but he did post an impressive .371 OBP and .353 wOBA. Besides getting on base well, a big reason for his a high value is his ability to stay off the sidelines.

Out of the entire starting lineup, only he and Carlos Pena avoided the DL. With a team with as many injury issues as the Rays, just being on the field game after game is crucial for the team.

2) Fernando Rodney

I mentioned it earlier in the article; Fernando Rodney is likely baseball’s most dominant closer right now. I was very close to putting him atop the team MVP list over Zobrist, but Zorilla’s higher WAR gave him the edge.

To know that you’re chances of winning the game are extremely high every time you enter the final inning with the lead is really a special thing. The Rays have had that privilege in 2012 thanks to Rodney, who is really the reason the Rays have not completely fallen out of the AL East race right now.

3) David Price

As expected, David Price has lead the Rays’ talented rotation this year. The All-Star southpaw has had a great first half of the season, posting a 11-4 record with a 2.82 ERA and 105 strikeouts through 111.2 innings pitched. The numbers say it all for Price, who has lived up to all the expectations thus far in 2012.

Honorable Mention: Matt Joyce (.279/.387/.512, 11 HR, 34 RBI)

Hideki Matsui to Sign Minor League Deal; Analyzing the Rays’ Latest Move

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The Rays are apparently on the verge of adding to their offensive depth with another veteran bat. Jack Curry of YES Network reported that the Rays are expected to sign former star slugger and World Series MVP Hideki Matsui to a minor league contract.

Matsui, who played his first season without the New York Yankees in 2011, hit .251/.321/.375 with 12 home runs and 72 RBI for Oakland through 141 games played. Matsui, who turns 38 this June, is obviously out of his prime and his numbers are clearly not where they used to be. However, he did finish the season strong last year hitting .295/.353/.425 in the second half.

Bringing Matsui aboard was definitely a smart move for the Rays, who could use another quality bat on the roster. He’s proven to be a very productive hitter throughout his nine solid years in the big leagues, posting a career line of .285/.363/.467 with a total of 173 homers. His 162-game average of 101 RBI and 23 HR per year is what’s most impressive amongst his overall numbers.

Once Matsui will join the Rays, the question is how he will fit on the roster. Designated Hitter is his primary position now, but he can also play left field. When Matsui gets called up (which will most likely send the newly-acquired Brandon Allen to the minors), there obviously won’t be a immediate starting position for him. The Rays have a solid DH in Luke Scott–who’s also a left-handed batter—and have outfield with no room for him.

What the Rays can do with Matsui though, is platoon, something they’ve fell in love with since Joe Maddon has taken over. The Rays have not yet found an effective hitter to platoon the left-handed bats of Matt Joyce and Luke Scott yet this season—who have never been successful off left-handed pitching—but they may of just found their guy in Hideki Matsui. Although Matsui is also a lefty, he has been much more effective off left-handed pitching throughout his career. His ability to hit decently off lefties is a probably a big reason why the Rays signed him and not Johnny Damon.

His average against both righties and lefties in his career are exactly the same at .285; although he produces a lot more runs against right-handers. Still, it’s probably a better option than Joyce (.199/.274/.329 career against LHP) and Scott (.236/.313/.465 career against LHP). That’s why we can expect to see Matsui get a significant amount of playing time against left-handed pitching this season, as he is probably a better option than the Rays’ DH and corner outfielder (Joyce), who both man positions that he can play. If the Rays decide not to start either Joyce or Scott due to the pitching matchup one day, Matsui and Jeff Keppinger could possibly be the duo to replace them.

No matter how many lefties face the Rays this season, Matsui is probably going to see a pretty good amount of pinch hit appearances. Fortunately, he has had success as a pinch hitter in the past, posting a career .300 average in 50 plate appearances.

Another encouraging split I found interesting from Matsui’s stats is how well he’s hit at Tropicana Field over the years. He’s a career .297/.385/.505 hitter at the Trop, with 43 RBI and 10 homers. In a more hitter-friendly park that Matsui seems to thrive in, I wouldn’t be surprised to see his numbers rise from last year’s.

Another reason why this move makes a lot of sense is Matsui’s ability to be consistent with runners in scoring position. Matsui is a career .298/.382/.477 hitter with the runners in scoring position, something that the Rays should be excited about. Tampa’s biggest weakness is hitting with men in scoring position, finishing third-worst in baseball last year with a .224 RISP. If Matsui can come through for the Rays in big situations like he’s done in the past, their offense could become more potent than ever.

His ability to get runners in is not the only reason why Matsui is known as a clutch hitter. Year after year, he’s been able to turn it on late in the season and into the postseason. He’s a lifetime .289/.378/.454 hitter in September/October (regular season). His postseason stats have been even more impressive, posting a career line of .312/.391/.541 with 39 RBI and 10 HR in 56 games. In the Fall Classic, the “Godzilla” unleashed in his two World Series. He’s compiled a .389/.463/.750 line with 12 RBI and four HR.

With the likelihood of the Rays making their third straight postseason appearance in 2012, Matsui could be a crucial part to their success in October. A clutch hitter like Matsui is a perfect addition to this ballclub, which has lacked some clutch hits in the last couple of years.

The biggest reason why Andrew Friedman went out and made this move may be the fact that Matsui is a good Luke Scott insurance policy. Although a major Scott injury would hurt the team, it would not as big as a blow as it would if Brandon Allen were to replace him. Scott has struggled with injury issues in the past, and hasn’t played over 135 games in a season since 2008 when he played 148 games (the only time he played over 135 games in his career). He was hurt most of the season last year with a shoulder injury, and has already missed a few games this year with a hamstring strain. Turning 34 this June, his chances of a an injury-free season are not getting better.

With the addition of Matsui, the Rays are given offensive security probably better than they’ve ever had. It’s clear that this is another very intelligent move by the Rays front office, and can only make them an even better team.

Why the Rays’ Offense Will Be Good Enough to Win the AL East

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It will be another hard-fought battle for the AL East in 2012, and the Rays will likely be in the hunt to win it all season long. Tampa’s great starting pitching is definitely good enough to win the division, but the question is whether they will hit good enough.

Offensive production was the only thing that stood in the way of an AL East title and postseason success last year. With all the tough competition in the American League, it’s clear the Rays are going to have to hit better than they did in 2011 in order to be serious title contenders.

There are some good reasons to believe that the Rays’ offense will be better in 2012. For starters, offseason acquisitions have already made an impact in the lineup, and they should make the Rays a better team overall this season. The Rays made smart moves by signing Carlos Pena to play first base and Luke Scott to be their DH, replacing Casey Kotchman and Johnny Damon from 2011.

It’s early, but it looks like the replacement is paying off and the newer combo will produce more runs for the Rays this year. Both Scott and Pena have start the season off on a tear in the meat of the lineup. Scott is hitting .400/.438/.933 with eight RBI and two home runs. Pena has been the Rays’ best hitter after the first nine games, batting .353/.450/.735 with 11 RBI and three long balls.

As expected, Evan Longoria is also hitting very well, starting his 2012 season with a .333/.436/.545 line along with five RBI and a homer. I think Longoria will have his best season yet this year, which is another reason why the Rays will score enough runs to be at the top of their division.

The Rays have a very strong trio of big boppers in Longoria, Pena and Scott, who will likely lead the team offensively. If those three stay healthy and hit to their potential the Rays will have a great shot at winning the AL East.

Jeff Keppinger and Jose Molina are two more additions that could bolster the offense. Keppinger is outstanding contact hitter who should help lower the Rays’ high strikeout ratios, as well as contribute to the bottom of the order. Keppinger’s already been somewhat of a pleasant surprise this season, coming through with some clutch hits. Molina is no All Star either, but he probably is a better offensive option than both Kelly Shoppach and John Jaso—who were the Rays’ two main backstops last year.

Matt Joyce, Ben Zobrist and B.J. Upton are three more bats that will be key to the Rays’ lineup this season, just like they’ve been in the past. Neither Joyce are Zobrist have started to hit well yet, and Upton has been on the DL since the season began. Once Joyce and Zobrist start to get things going at the plate and Upton returns to the lineup, the Rays will instantly become a more threatening team to their AL East opponents.

The three combined for 247 RBI and 62 homers last season, finishing second, third and fourth in team leaders for both categories (behind Evan Longoria who lead in both). Ben Zobrist hit 20 homers with an impressive 91 RBI, while Joyce was selected to the All Star Game and finished the season with 75 RBI, 19 homers and a .277 average. Upton produced his share of runs as well, collecting 81 RBI with 23 home runs while stealing 36 stolen bases.

The Rays should finally have a consistent leadoff man in the lineup with the full-season addition of Desmond Jennings this year. Jennings—a late-season call-up in 2011—stole 20 bases with 25 RBI and 10 homers in his 63-game rookie season. Having an everyday leadoff guy like Jennings is definitely a big help to the lineup that the Rays didn’t really have last year.

The running game has been a big part of the Rays’ offense in past years, and Jennings huge threat on the base pads provides a big boost with Carl Crawford no longer with the team. Like Crawford, he’s a great base-stealer with excellent speed.

The Rays’ running game hasn’t got off to a good start, however, which is a big reason why the Rays are only 21st in the Majors right now in runs scored. It’s really unfair to judge Tampa’s offense at this point in the season, though, as two of the team’s three main base-stealers are out with injury. Both Upton —who lead the team in stolen bases last year— and Sam Fuld (20 stolen bases in 2011) are on the DL.

Injuries have not only hurt the running game, but they have hurt the offense overall. As I said before, Upton was one of the main run-producers last season, and not having him in the lineup is huge. Luke Scott —another huge piece— was also out with an injury for three games last week. The offense still hasn’t been healthy yet this season, which is why I think it will only get better.

Still, the Rays do have some obvious weaknesses in the lineup, mainly the bottom of the order. Elliot Johnson, Reid Brignac, Sean Rodriguez and Jose Lobaton are some names that are a bit of a concern.

It’s safe to say the Rays won’t have the best lineup—or overall offense—in their division when comparing them to the stacked rosters of Boston and New York. They likely won’t have to match their rivals’ big bats, though, with such stellar starting pitching and defense as dominant as they have.

Still, the Rays are going to need to come through for them when needed, just like it did last year in their memorable Game 162. The Rays can expect that from their talented young roster this year, as they definitely have all the ingredients for a functional offense.

Have the Rays Been Too Hesitant to Trade a Starter?

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Ever since the offseason began, there has been a big discussion surrounding the Rays on whether they would trade their surplus of pitching for a bat. The Rays have been looking to trade a starter for a while now, but apparently haven’t found a deal.

During the winter, the Rays really had three roster holes they needed to fill; catcher, first base and DH. Somewhat surprisingly, they turned to the free agent market for their needs. The Rays snagged veteran backstop Jose Molina, signed left-handed slugger Luke Scott to be their DH and brought back first baseman Carlos Pena.

The front office got the job done, but were there better options on the trade market?

The fact is that the Rays have eight legitimate starters for 2012, and probably more in 2013. James Shields, David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore, Jeff Niemann, Wade Davis, Alex Torres and Alex Cobb could all make an Opening Day MLB rotation on most other teams, while prospect Chris Archer will definitely be in that mix soon. The Rays offense is weaker than their outstanding starting pitching, so it would make a lot of sense to trade at least one starter for a hitter when you have three ‘extra’ starters.

The Rays clearly possess the necessary pieces in order to construct a deal, but who could they have traded for during the offseason. Three names immediately come to mind: first baseman/outfielder Yonder Alonso, first baseman Anthony Rizzo and catcher Yasmani Grandal. The two best prospect first basemen in all of baseball and a top prospect catcher were all traded this winter on deals the Rays could of very easily made.20120409-124959.jpg

In the deal that sent Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal to the Padres, San Diego only gave up their No.1 starter (Mat Latos) in exchange for both of them and two more arms (Edinson Volquez and Brad Boxberger) from Cincinnati. With the starting pitching the Rays have, there were plenty of ways the Rays could have traded for both Alonso and Grandal if the Reds were looking for just one good arm to add to their rotation.

As for Anthony Rizzo, he was traded to the Cubs in exchange for minor league pitcher Andrew Cashner. Looking at who Chicago gave away for Rizzo, there’s absolutely no way that Jeff Niemann, Wade Davis, Chris Archer, Alex Cobb, or Alex Torres could not bring this future star first-baseman to Tampa Bay.

This trio’s big bats seem like they would have been a perfect addition to the Rays’ roster, but how would they actually fit on the team? If Luke Scott and Carlos Pena were never signed, we can assume that Alonso and Rizzo would be able to play DH and first base for the 2012 season. With Rizzo being the better defensive first baseman, he would likely man first while Alonso would be the DH.

As for Yasmani Grandal, he would be the backup catcher behind Molina and would get a significant amount of playing time. Looking at the Rays’ catching situation behind Molina, they probably wish they had him now.

The Rays would obviously have to choose either the Rizzo/Alonso combination or the Pena/Scott combination (or possibly a mixture), so which would be the better decision? There are plus sides and negative sides to both decisions. With the Scott/Pena combo (which is having a great start to the season by the way) the Rays have now, there is a bit of a long-term concern. Pena will be a free agent after the 2012 season, and Scott will be a free agent in 2013.

If the Rays signed both Alonso and Rizzo to long-term deals, they would have better security at the DH and first base positions. We know how Andrew Friedman loves to lock up young talented players long-term, which is the main reason why I think this would have been a good deal for the Rays. However, I believe that the Rays’ offense may be a bit better short-term with Scott and Pena in the roster.

It’s too early in the season to say anything for sure, but Scott and Pena have much more experience and have proven what they can do at the big league level. The short-term aspect is why I think the Rays chose Scott and Pena. They’ve made it very clear they’re going for it all this season.

What I find the most surprising in the Rays’ search to trade a starter is that they still haven’t made a deal to bring in a catcher to backup Molina. Not surprisingly, the Rays are still searching for a backup catcher. According to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, Tampa has been pushing to acquire Oakland’s Kurt Suzuki, but Billy Beane isn’t very interested in Jeff Niemann or Wade Davis.20120409-125007.jpg

The Rays will most likely sign somebody eventually, but it may not be via trade. Ivan Rodriguez is one free agent catcher that the Rays pursue. If the Rays don’t decide to turn to free agency for their catching needs, who could they trade for?

Ryan Hanigan and Travis D’Arnaud could be two future possibilities. Hanigan—who the Rays have already discussed acquiring—has a questionable future in Cincinnati because of the emergence of top prospect catcher Devin Mesoraco. D’Arnaud—who’s also a top prospect catcher—may not have a future in Toronto because J.P Arencibia, who has established himself as the team’s starting catcher there. The Blue Jays have already discussed trading him, which is why I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Rays go after him.

The Rays have waited to find the right deal to trade some of their young pitching talent, but I think they’ll find some better opportunities as the trade deadline nears. It’s still too early in the season to conclude that the Rays have been over-hesitant to trade away their pitching surplus. What matters is what the front office decides to do in the future, and I think we’ll see the trade many have been anticipating once the deadline arrives.

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